Published Thursday, Nov. 8, 2001, in the San Jose Mercury News

Candidates look ahead to 2002 election season


Mercury News

Two open Assembly seats in the South Bay attracted veteran politicians and newcomers to the 2002 election Wednesday, while a Senate district that sprawls from Salinas to Modesto drew an all-star cast the state parks director, a former assemblyman and Rep. Gary Condit's son.

Rusty Areias, Peter Frusetta and Chad Condit declared their intent to run in the 12th Senate District by Wednesday's deadline to declare for state political offices.

``This should be one of the most interesting races in the state, especially with Chad Condit running,'' said Tim Clark, Frusetta's longtime consultant.

Areias, a former South Bay assemblyman, and Condit will face each other in the Democratic primary. Frusetta, who was known as the ``Cowboy in the Capitol,'' is a Republican.


Four contenders on coast

In the 27th Assembly District, the coastal region Fred Keeley now represents, Santa Cruz Mayor John Laird, a Democrat, will face the winner of the GOP primary and Libertarian Gordon Sachtjen. Moderate Scotts Valley City Councilwoman Stephany Aguilar and perennial conservative candidate Chuck Carter plan to run in the Republican primary.

Three local Democratic veterans -- Rod Diridon Jr., Sally Lieber and Rosemary Stasek -- are vying for Elaine Alquist's 22nd Assembly District seat. Also running in the strongly Democratic district are former Sunnyvale mayor Stan Kawczynski, a Republican who has twice run before, and Libertarian Kennita Watson.

The district includes Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Cupertino, most of Santa Clara and a small portion of San Jose.

Diridon, 32, the son of former Santa Clara Supervisor Rod Diridon Sr., is a two-term Santa Clara City Council member and a former global community relations manager for 3Com.

Lieber, 40, and Stasek, 38, both serve on the Mountain View City Council. Stasek, a Web page developer, was the city's mayor in 2000.

Diridon, who describes himself as a moderate Democrat, led his city's campaign finance reform process and supports the environment and education, among other issues. ``I'm halfway through my second term,'' he said, ``and continue to love people and enjoy public service and feel my talents are best suited for the state Assembly.''

Lieber has been active in various charitable and government organizations. She has also been an advocate for mobile home residents. ``I have a really good record of working hard and getting things done,'' said Lieber, a self-described progressive Democrat.

Stasek, who says she is socially liberal and fiscally moderate, is a pro-choice advocate and supports domestic partner benefits and affordable housing. ``I feel during the last housing crisis,'' she said, ``the state really didn't play the role it should have.''

Watson, the Libertarian candidate, could not be reached for comment.

Alquist, who must leave the Assembly because of term limits, plans to run for a state Senate seat in 2004.


Familiar names

The 12th Senate District, with its potent mix of candidates, promises to be a race to watch next year.

Chad Condit, 34, had been a political liaison for Gov. Gray Davis until the governor began criticizing his father's conduct after the disappearance of former Washington, D.C., intern Chandra Levy. The elder Condit told police he had an affair with the 24-year-old Levy.

Areias' last political battle was in 1996, when he narrowly lost a bruising race to Sen. Bruce McPherson, R-Santa Cruz. It was among the most expensive Senate races in state history.

Political pundits say the race is Areias' to lose. He has strong name recognition and soundly beat Frusetta, a rancher from Tres Piņos in San Benito County, when the two ran against each other for an Assembly seat in 1992. And Frusetta had widely publicized health problems when he left office last year. But the 69-year-old Frusetta, rarely seen in public without his cowboy hat, said he's healthy and ready for a new political fight.

Other candidates in the 12th district race include Democrats Armando Flores, a Modesto attorney, and Larry Morse, a lawyer from Merced. David Eaton, a Libertarian from Madera County, has also filed to run.

Incumbent 21st District Assemblyman Joe Simitian, the Democratic former county supervisor from Palo Alto, will face Republican Jim Russell of Los Gatos, who has taken a leave of absence from his job as principal of Leigh High School in San Jose.

Russell, who has a background in political science and described himself as a moderate, pro-choice Republican, acknowledged that his candidacy is a ``long shot.'' He had hoped to run against Rebecca Cohn in the 24th Assembly District, but redistricting changed the boundaries and now he lives in Simitian's district, which stretches from southern San Mateo County into southern Santa Clara County.

``Joe Simitian is a strong candidate, but I think I'm a credible candidate and if I didn't do this now, I was never going to do it,'' said Russell, 50, who decided to give politics a try after 25 years in education.

Raymond Bell, a Libertarian, also declared his intent to run in the district.

No one filed to run against Cohn, a Democrat from Campbell, in her district, which includes parts of San Jose, Cupertino, Campbell and Saratoga. Assemblyman Manny Diaz, a Democrat who represents San Jose's 23rd District, also faces no opposition.


Salinas seeks new term

Democrat Simon Salinas has filed for re-election in the 28th Assembly District, which covers San Benito County and parts of Monterey, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties. He will face Jane Howard, a Republican from Gilroy.

Further north, two Assembly seats in San Francisco and one that covers much of northern San Mateo are all open races, with the incumbents forced out by term limits. In the 19th District, now represented by Assemblyman Lou Papan, D-Millbrae, Deputy Attorney General Gina Papan is running to succeed her father.





Mercury News Staff Writer Michelle Guido contributed to this report.